Hipster food trends continue to flourish in London and if you don’t keep up, you could easily get left behind and as confused as Ellie was when I offered to take her out for crisps before our cinema trip. Apparently “going out for crisps” is not yet A Thing. But the team behind HipChips, a new cafe in Soho, are looking to make it one.
But let’s start at Piccadilly Circus station, with something of beauty and something that’s not so beautiful. Here’s the beautiful – a wall commemorating one of the Founding Fathers of the Underground, Frank Pick. Under Pick’s guidance, the tube network rapidly expanded and he oversaw the branding that we still use today. In other words, respect to Frank.
The not-so-beautiful? Well, I have a theory that the more you pay for a public toilet, the worse it is. My theory was only proven more right yesterday. I had to use the one at the station (that’s all you need to know) and it’s 50p at Piccadilly Circus. I had 35p in change or a pound coin so spent a while searching my bag for 5ps and was up to about 45p plus chocolate coins when some women came up, waving a 10p piece and saying “cincuante” to me. Now, were they offering me the 10p or were they asking me for 50p for the loos? My rudimentary Spanish wasn’t really up to it. In the end, I paid a pound for a pee and was still none the wiser. Should have waited till I got to HipChips really.
Yes, HipChips – the point of this whole article and I sincerely hope I haven’t ruined your appetite talking about public toilets. Let’s move rapidly on to artisan crisps – the concept that HipChips revolves around.
It’s quite simple really – crisps are cooked fresh (and yes, I’m going to say “crisps” not “chips”, to save confusion) from a variety of unusual potatoes and then they’re served with dips. Here’s a small twist – the crisps can be savoury or sweet. Yes, dessert potatoes. You heard right. So there are savoury dips and sweet dips, to be eaten with the cinnamon-sugared variety of crisp.
We took some advice from the server and had a mix of savoury and sweet crisps and dips…so that we could really sample everything HipChips had to offer. So, we chose Katsu Curry, Moroccan Yoghurt, Cheese Fondue, Lemon and Raspberry Tart, Chocolate Salted Caramel and Cheesecake. If you’re thinking that sounds like an odd combination, it was but hey, a responsible reviewer always goes to lengths to provide the most comprehensive report. I was sitting next to Giles Coren in a Chinese restaurant a few weeks back and he ordered the pigs’ ears. So I know. I’m clearly moving in food critic circles.
We had a large box between us and it was really quite substantial:
Honestly, it’s probably a bit much for two people who had eaten dinner already but I wasn’t sure how filling crisps would be. We started with the savoury side and the crisps tasted pretty good on their own but the dips certainly added some welcome variety. The Cheese Fondue was nice but the pickled onions sank to the bottom and so were quite hard to eat. The Moroccan yoghurt was nice but surprisingly spicy. I think the Katsu Curry was the favourite of both of us.
Now, I had carefully picked Ellie, knowing that she’s not one to be precious about skipping about between main course and dessert – when she lived with us, she’d often have a bar of chocolate as a starter while waiting for pasta to cook. She is a bit precious about not eating things with nuts in – too many near-death experiences – but I’m happy to say that we chose wisely and none of the dips were potentially fatal for her. I mean, I would have liked the peanut butter one but it’s not worth the risk. It would have really spoilt our night out. If I was less facetious, you could read this whole last paragraph as “allergy information was well displayed”.
So anyway, onto dessert crisps and this is naturally the point where HipChips veers off from the norm. The whole concept is a bit unusual but the sweet crisps do taste really nice – kind of like a cinnamon bun. Again, you could enjoy them just on their own. The dips were divine – I’m full of regret that I didn’t scrape every last bit out of the cheesecake one but you have to understand just how full I was getting by this point. A dinner a few hours before, a lot of crisps, creamy dips and then cheesecake…I was hitting the crisp wall.
The cheesecake and lemon tart dips could have worked just fine as independent desserts and, in fact, a spoon is provided for that very purpose. For me, the fruity flavours didn’t work with the cinnamon of the crisps – it was all a bit too much. But separately they were lovely. And the chocolate salted caramel really did work with the crisps – I think it’s the salty edge that stops the combo from being overpoweringly sweet.
Talking of which, we had salted crisps to finish up so we went back to savoury as a kind of palate cleanser. Without the creamy dips, I found I could still fit a lot of crisps in. Finishing the salted caramel with a spoon was just going to be pushing myself over the edge, unfortunately. Still, good effort I think:
On the way out we noticed the iPad barista – you select your coffee and it somehow magically comes out of a tap. The 21st century is amazing sometimes.
I wouldn’t haven’t necessarily thought of a crisp cafe as being a vital destination but it was a really fun and different place to go. The staff were friendly, the food tasted good and the decor was cool. I can’t imagine it would replace dinner but as a pre-cinema bit of snackage it worked well. I certainly didn’t need any popcorn as we were watching “La La Land” (which you should do – it’s ace). I can also imagine it’d be good to take the kids too during the day, though I think they’d be straight onto the chocolate dip and ignore the savoury ones.
HipChips is now open, at 49 Old Compton Street – find out more info here.
Disclaimer: I received a free portion of chips in exchange for my review. All opinions remain honest and my own.